Five Point Move is proud to host US Greco-Roman National Team Head Coach Matt Lindland every week for “Coach Lindland’s Report.” For fans and wrestlers looking for insights regarding the US Greco National Team, we ask Coach Lindland questions pertaining to recent events, training, and other topics surrounding the sport of Greco-Roman. If you have any questions of your own you’d like us to ask going forward, let us know via Facebook, Twitter, or through our Contact page.
In this abbreviated edition of the Coach Lindland’s Report, we hone in on several topics. Obviously, it’s “Fargo Week”, one of the most celebrated times of the year as thousands upon thousands of wrestlers, coaches, friends, families, and friends descend upon Fargo, North Dakota for the Cadet and Junior National Championships. The event, which has grown into a life of its own, brings with it a lot of history and has served as a proving ground for many of the country’s current stars. We ask Lindland what he likes (and doesn’t like) about this mega-tournament. In addition, social media and its role in today’s youth sporting culture is brought up. Finally, Lindland talks about the big plans he and USA Greco-Roman Operations Manager Gary Mayabb are putting together for the development of the sport at the age-group levels.
5PM: Last year leading up to Rio, we touched on the role social media plays in the way the youth communicate and also in how they promote themselves. With that being said, do you think that because of the current digital media generation that athletes are under too big of a microscope and if so, how do you combat that? Because it also means the feedback, positive and negative, is trumped up and people can keep tabs and find out info very, very quickly.
Coach Matt Lindland: It’s definitely a challenge to have to deal with this, but it is a reality. I mean, we talk about pressure. There’s the pressure you put on yourself, there’s the pressure from coaches, from parents, all of the pressure you feel, and if you start to allow the pressure of social media start to weight down on you, that can be pretty deadly. I think young athletes need to learn how to cope with that. Turn off the social media, or at least mentally turn it off so far as listening to criticism from anonymous keyboard warriors who aren’t actually stepping foot in the arena to compete and challenge themselves on the mat. These guys who are doing this, they’re brave men. They are going out there half-naked, stepping on a mat, and fighting another opponent, somebody from the other side of the world most of the time. I think it is a challenge in that sense, but pressure is also a good thing. If we don’t have pressure, we don’t fight back.
So there has to be some kind of balance, but I think we have to, in some way, train our athletes to not really validate any of that stuff that is coming from online. You understand that there is dopamine released when people “like” your tweets and your Facebook posts, they comment and stuff, and it obviously makes you feel good. But at the same time, you have to just let that stuff blow off you if it’s negative or not productive for what you’re looking at. So it’s hard, both sides, even the positives. Don’t get caught up too much in the hype. If people are talking great about you, you still have to stay humble, stay grounded, and you have to know what reality is. Reality is always found out on the mat. You find that out when you step on the tarp to face another opponent. Are you really that good? Or do you have a ways to go? You’ve got to keep that stuff in perspective.
5PM: How is Fargo important and how is it unimportant in your eyes?
ML: Well I think it’s very important for our athletes to get that opportunity and to have that chance to go out there and test themselves against some of the best guys in the nation. It’s a very tough, grueling tournament. I talked to some of the athletes who have been out here the last few weeks with the camps about how many matches it would take. I think we got somewhere in between eight and ten matches to get to the finals sometimes. So I mean, you’re not going to see that at the Olympic Games, you know? Six matches or 12 matches to get to the finals. But right now, with a 16-man bracket it’s going to change things up, the number of matches, but it is that level of competition you have to face.
This is a very tough, challenging tournament and wrestlers need to develop that toughness and resiliency, that grit. There is definitely something to be said for that. What I don’t love about Fargo is that we really don’t have a high number of athletes who are proficient in Greco-Roman. We’re sending guys out and telling them to get an underhook. But they’re not bringing their bodies close, they’re not keeping their heads up, they’re not controlling the body. There are so many technical things we can make small adjustments to if we just had a big enough network of coaches who were very proficient in Greco-Roman. That’s really what we brought Gary Mayabb on to do, to establish a network of coaches that way we can grow our sport of Greco-Roman. That way, eventually, when we tune in to watch Fargo, we’re seeing the same type of wrestling we already see in Croatia, Hungary, or Russia when we send our athletes onto the mat.
I watched a lot of the matches from the Cadet Pan Ams. The athletes we sent there were really proficient. They had some pretty good matches. But I still see a lot of holes because we’re transitioning these athletes between freestyle and Greco-Roman. The team that competed in Greco-Roman was the same team that competed in freestyle. Unfortunately, we don’t have a big enough budget to create some teams right now. So for us to get to that point where athletes are choosing at the Cadet level which style they are going to wrestle, it’s going to be a little bit of a ways away, and we’re developing that network now. Gary just got hired, he came on board the first of June, so he has been with us for one month and he is focused entirely (on development). We’ve had camps every week out here with the Juniors and Cadets, he’s been down to Schoolboy Duals. He has been working with all of our age-group athletes putting plans together for training and for the World Championships. As soon as the World Championships get through, that is going to be the first thing on our agenda, to start to build that network of coaches so we have more coaches who are training real Greco-Roman in this country.
5PM: How do you imagine that will take shape? Will it be a scenario where periodically there are seminars, conferences, that sort of thing?
ML: That’s exactly what we are going to do. We’re going to have training camps and weekend seminars. We’re going to identify some of the elite Greco-Roman coaches in the country. We have at least one or two in every region, we really do. We talked a lot about this other times, the strong states for Greco-Roman — Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota — and then we start looking further away from the midwest and it’s, Hey, Florida has got some great Greco-Roman. There’s some guys up in Washington State, there are some guys in California. With each of those regions, we have such a massive nation that travel is an obstacle. We have to develop more. But we can find those coaches. We can get them to put on seminars. They can travel, as well.
It has to be a year-round endeavor. It can’t be a seasonal thing anymore in our sport. Guys are getting way too good way too early now in Greco. We’re seeing the ages coming down for guys who are able to get on the podium at the World Championships and a lot of these guys are still in the age groups. They’re actually still age-group athletes or under-23 age-group athletes. They are also some of our best Senior athletes. As a nation, if we are going to continue to say, There’s a Greco season, there’s a freestyle season, I think we’re going to get left behind. So we’re going to have to really start to change that and we have to get some buy-in from our athletes, and we’re seeing that. We’re seeing it across the board. Next year, we will have two Accelerator athletes who are still in high school but have made a commitment to be a part of the resident program at the Olympic Training Center. We have a couple more athletes going up to Northern Michigan who are still in high school. We have Terry Pack’s Legends of Gold in South Dakota where they are starting as young as Schoolboy.
We’re starting to develop this system where there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model you have to follow, like go to college, wrestle folkstyle, and hopefully there’s that transition. We can start preparing our athletes, but we can also put them in the right environments and help them get the right education they need. Every one of our athletes who have chosen this path are still following a college track. And as much as I think higher education is very important, I also think this liberal indoctrination is indebting our youth. We’re strapping our youth with these loans that quite possibly may never get paid off before they are even getting their start in life. They have to have all of this education and with this education comes a burden of debt. So I don’t want to see our athletes have to dig themselves out of that debt the first 20 years of life following them getting out of that educational process.